ChatGPT powered search engines have the potential to take away a portion of publishers’ search-driven traffic, with their ability to generate answers to prompts without requiring a user to click through to an article.

As a result, certain publishers are moving resources away from SEO-driven content and into original stories and personal takes. Bustle Digital Group for example are taking an editorial shift which will also prioritise original visual content, especially“relatable, humorous, shared experiences [and] advice” stories, said Wes Bonner, head of social and audience development at BDG. At Leaf Group’s home design site Hunker, the focus will be on content that shows writers’ “taste, opinion, expertise and point of view,” said Eve Epstein, Hunker’s svp and gm.

If AI chatbots take over the role that Google search currently has, it will be a “bigger issue for us to solve,” said Beth Tomkiw, CCO at Trusted Media Brand. “My hope is that there will still be a place — even if it’s a smaller place — for the quality of work that comes from a real human,” she added. While Tomkiw is having conversations about what this would mean for TMB’s editorial strategy, no changes are taking place yet.

The move away from SEO isn’t anything new, it is just being accelerated. History tells us the scale model in which publishers chase clicks to build an audience doesn’t usually work to drive a successful business. It’s part of the reason why publishers have worked to build direct relationships with their audiences over the past few years — from subscriptions to newsletters — to rely less on referral traffic coming from platforms.

However, less traffic means less eyeballs to serve ads to, which could take a toll on publishers’ business. But BDG have said that programmatic revenue will continue to be a “small” part of their business going forward, with the “lion’s share” of revenue coming from direct advertising. “In this new world we’re expecting our revenue from events and newsletters to grow enormously, offsetting any potential programmatic loss,” she said.

Moving forward, lifestyle publishers’ “most valuable assets are their photography and visuals that they may bring to a piece of content” now that ChatGPT is in the picture, said Melissa Chowning, founder and CEO of audience development and marketing firm Twenty-First Digital. 

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